Friday, July 18, 2008


I have had the BEST TIME in New York. Let me take you through (or, as they say in New York, 'thru') some of it.

I was staying with Irwin and Fran in their delightful apartment near Central Park, they have been extremely gracious hosts (they're not here now, they went to their holiday place). I did not help Irwin with his computer problems (I tried, briefly, thinking all the time 'I'm not an expert, what will I do if this fries the thing?) and I failed to persuade Fran to come with me to Forest Hills Gardens to, you know, snoop around. But they were great to spend time with and I was particularly pleased that they are, like, people not hotel staff, who no doubt are people - don't get me wrong - but they are not paid to be people during their work hours. The worst of these was a man whose name I will not publish here as it is decidedly distinctive but who put me through the damn wringer over a booking I had arranged to be paid for on a support staff credit card about six weeks ago and who was incredibly rude to me by the clever trick of treating me like anyone would treat anyone (wait a minute, I just said that was what hotel staff never did - I think my argument just bit itself in the tail with a poison fang). Hotels are not nice. Alright, they are a little nice in small doses, but they are the opposite in large doses yet even if I hadn't come from hotel 'hell' (you know, the kind of 'hell' most people on earth will never know about, let alone see or experience, and could not imagine) I still would have loved being here in Manhattan in this marvellous flat with these extremely delightful people.

On Wednesday morning I had brunch in a Ukrainian restaurant with two former members of a band I once wrote a book about and the partner to one of them and the daughter to the other of them, which was lively and convivial and the food was excellent, as was the grumpiness of the proprietor when we changed tables. After that I was directed to the Strand, a bookstore or perhaps the bookstore, let's compromise and say one of the bookstores, because I had expressed an interest during the brunch in reading Suze Rotolo's book, and it was suggested that it would be there, cheapish, and there it was, along with a bunch of other things I am now going to have to lug (that word does not do justice to what I am going to have to do, unless you imagine it in enormous 10-foot-high letters made of concrete) half way round the world, back to my lair, where I will ignore the banner on which I recently wrote, 'I will stop buying books' (but these are special and rare and useful for my job and the last I will ever buy). After that an event I had planned for did not pan out so I just mooched around for a lot of the day, taking in the extraordinary experience of there just being people, people all the time. Every time I took a subway, which I did a lot of, I would come out of the subway having studied the map intently and immediately go off in the wrong direction. The wrong direction always felt intuitively right. It never was. I think there was in fact only one time in the entire two days when I started walking in the right direction, and it was only because I genuinely had no idea - therefore, a 50% chance of getting it right, whereas clearly the rest of the time something else (perhaps something to do with the travelling on the wrong side of the road/train tracks? The position of the sun?) set me awry. No matter: it was all so great, and I usually had plenty of time to make my appointments. Last night I went to Battery Park City and suddenly a really phat and groovy sounding reggae band were playing. It was Steel Pulse. That's a bit like 'his mother bought him a synthesiser, got the Human League in to advise her'; I mean, someone in NY said 'let's have a reggae band' and someone else said, 'yeah, let's get one of the most prominent and respected British reggae bands of the last 30 years'. And they did.

That time, I saw two episodes of violence. Both quite funny. In one instance, a black man hit a white woman on a subway platform - she was shocked and affronted - but in fact his hand had shot out involuntarily because of the force of a sneeze. And in another instance, as I walked away from the Steel Pulse concert, I saw an old Italianish man hit a rasta: he was gesticulating wildly as the rasta jogged past him. The Italianish man called out after him, 'I beg your pardon sir!'.

Yesterday I saw a hilarious exampled of NY crotchettiness on the subway. A woman asked a man to move over a little on the slightly depressed plastic seats, and he refused. She should have known better as he was already sitting in that way that makes the torso the mid point in the right angle of the legs (sorry, I don't know how better to describe that). And he refused to move, saying 'I'm not going to put my ass there', pointing to the slightly raised part of the moulded seats. They continued to bicker, and he asserted that 'normal people fill a normal space', and she capitulated saying 'I'm sorry you're having a bad day', to which he responded forcefully, 'I'm having a great day!!!' Manhattan is seemingly like this huge share household, where everyone is jostling and bitching at each other. Or being nice, I suppose.

This morning I went to Forest Hills Gardens, which is an exceptional middle-class (now richascroesus) development of the early 20th century constructed in a curiously odd mediaevalesque-over-tudor easy style, where the streets have names like 'Greenway South' and 'Nordern'. Hot stuff. Then I took a train to Sunnyside Gardens - only a few stations down the line at Woodside, but the trains don't stop, so I had to go all the way to Penn Station and come back, which was a hassle but who really cares. I was shown around Sunnyside Gardens, another housing development of the mid-20s, by two very delightful and interesting people who had lived there a long time and had recently aided the classification of the area as historically valid, which it certainly is.

Then I went back to the Strand to see if they had a copy of the book about Forest Hills Gardens or any of the books about/by the creators of Sunnyside Gardens but they let me down on that one but that's OK. I still bought a bunch of other things, thinking all the while, 'how the hell am I going to get this stuff home?'

I had an 8:30 appointment with Wil Greenstreet, who plays saxophone at the viewing deck of the Empire State Building. Wil was once known in Australia as Billy Green (here he is in 1970, playing guitar for Doug Parkinson In Focus in a great song he wrote) and I had made contact with him for the purposes of a book I am writing. We had a great chat and he should write his own book in my opinion (well, he has, but it's a book of exercises for playing the saxophone; I mean he should write a book about his life). He talked about writing the soundtrack to the absolutely brilliant film Stone, and about moving to Orange from the Netherlands when he was 9 (!!). Great guy, I really warmed to him, and what little I heard of his playing up there (I had to get back), was sensational. He took me up the ESB as his guest and it was a hoot seeing him converse with everyone he met along the way (in terms of security/ shepherding staff) and these ongoing conversations (mainly about music) he was having with them daily. And by the way the guy's 65, or will be sometime this year, but he looks about my age. Perhaps that's what NY does to you (unless it turns you into the crazy man in the Google NYC t-shirt who was on my train coming back, who was yelling out at the top of his voice about what a german shepherd would do to a pit bull 'He would kill it ALIVE! You get one german shepherd and three - no, five - pit bulls and that German Shepherd would come out, not a scratch on him. They go for the jugular. You wanna bet? I bet you as many pit bulls as you want. Pit bulls, all they can do is pit! (Yes, I really do think this is what he said, and I laughed inwardly, and outwardly later).

It's been really hot, and very humid, and the subways have just been like ovens (but the trains mostly beautifully airconditioned). Queens (where Sunnyside is) was much more pleasant, incidentally. I will certainly be glad to get back to a natural state of winter, more appopriate to this time of year, and of course I miss my homelife and Mia. But this little snapshot of NY has been brilliant, and I would like to right now thank everyone who made it so for me.


Dan E said...

Glad you had a nice time with Fran & Irwin. Thanks for trying to help him solve with his computer problems, though I fear his computer problems are beyond the ken of mortal men...

That's So Pants said...

Hi David

'On Wednesday morning I had brunch in a Ukrainian restaurant with two former members of a band I once wrote a book about and the partner to one of them and the daughter to the other of them.'

Amazingly I know exactly who you are talking about. Small world!



Anonymous said...

but he was such an incredible guitarist and he looks brill still. ever gonna give me ya email so i can stop using this?

David said...

Oh... OK